Public land hunters face different hurdles and obstacles that private land hunters don’t encounter. You share the woods with any and all manner of folks. You can forget about leaving blinds or stands out overnight. And your expertly planned strategy that’s been weeks in the making could be laid to waste your first day of hunting when you realize your top secret hunting spot, sure to produce a world-class buck, is occupied by 19 different hunters that had the same idea.
Jesse Maruschak understands public land hunting. Having grown up in the woods of Pennsylvania, he’s spent time in the deep hollows of the Keystone State chasing bucks and avoiding lead, all with the hopes of putting venison in the freezer.
Now living in Missouri, the veteran hunter was putting in the work with the hopes of dropping a public land monster. It started during bow season where he and his buddy Eric drove an hour and half each way to a public land hunting area. After their arrival, they’d walk a mile and half to a spot where they could hunt an area alone, though there were no guarantees that would even happen.
The process was taxing on the hunters and their families.
The months continued with Jesse and Eric traveling to their hunting area with no success to speak of. Firearm season was upon the pair and Jesse decided to pick up his Browning lever-action rifle (BLR) 81 and try his hand at filling the freezer with a couple of buddies, resigned to the fact that a big buck probably wasn’t in his future. He hadn’t shot the rifle in more than five years.
They headed out to their familiar spot where they bowhunted, only to discover the “orange army” had landed and the area had men set up with rifles seemingly every 40 yards.
The group packed up and struck out for another spot, hoping that it would be better than the last. As they pulled into the parking area, they were dismayed by what they saw.
“We looked for parking lots that had less than two trucks parked in them. Every parking lot had tents, RV’s, and pop-up campers. We found one place that had only a tent and a single truck parked in it. We pulled in and shoved some impromptu turkey and cheese wraps into our bellies while looking at an aerial and topo map on Google Earth to devise a hunt plan,” shared Jesse.
Their strategy was to walk along the edge of a deep hollow to try and catch deer running for thicker cover, fleeing hunting pressure. It wasn’t until 12:15 in the afternoon until they were set up, but Jesse felt like he was back in Pennsylvania.
“This was old school, just like I remember from growing up back in Pennsylvania. Deep hollows, mature hard woods, fallen trees to sit on. I sat on a root wad that gave me a shooting rest looking down a steep hollow and texted Eric that I was settled in and liked the potential of the spot. Just as I put my phone in my pocket, HERE THEY CAME!!”
Jess spotted two deer, one a nice buck, hurrying up the steep hollow. Knowing that he had to “sling lead” on public land, Jesse took a shot, but the buck didn’t drop, instead freezing and facing the hunter. Unsure if he’d hit the buck or not, Jesse found a small window and shot again.
The buck was still standing, but Jesse felt blessed by God to see the buck was now walking slowly on an angle away from him. The hunter identified an opening 110 yards away — his only option — and held steady on that spot, hoping the buck would come through. He saw horns walk into the clearing and he dropped the buck!
Having hunted public lands his entire life, Jesse knew waiting 20-30 minutes for the buck to expire was out of the question.
“Based on previous experiences etched in my Pennsylvania public hunting upbringing, I knew I couldn’t let him lay to make sure he was dead, I had to get down my side of the hollow and up his side of the hollow to put my tag on him before another hunter walked up on him,” shared Jesse.
As the hunter hurried over to his deer he was amazed at the size of the buck.
“I looked at this huge bodied deer laying there and thought that he must have tangled up in a small tree while thrashing around because a branch was tangled in his rack,” shared Jesse. “Then it hit me as I got closer. That WAS his rack! I mean….THAT WAS HIS RACK!!! I just started saying the same phrase over and over and over as I walked up to him…’Oh, Lord. Oh Lord….OH, LORD!'” He truly felt blessed.
Jesse and Eric were soon celebrating and taking many pictures with the monster buck, which green scored 191 inches non-typical. And upon further inspection, Jesse realized he had hit the buck all three times.
The work wasn’t so much about planting foodplots, checking trail cameras, or expertly placing stands months in advance on a private whitetail sanctuary…it was about just being in the woods. And sometimes, that’s the best strategy of them all. Just be there and be ready when that big boy comes strolling by.
Nice work Jesse!
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